Over the past several weeks, there have been a lot of positive and negative things that have been said about the “Heroes of Cosplay.” Love it, or otherwise, there is no denying its’ staying power as a point of discussion. However, it has come to the attention of The Outhouse that SyFy’s newest reality series is about to have another heated subject to talk about, as BGZ Studios reported yesterday evening that NBC Universal (SyFy’s parent company) has potentially used several photos without the permission of several Photographers.
For those who have not seen the show, “Heroes of Cosplay” introduces the costumes its’ stars are wearing is through pictures taken by photographers who are present where they’re being worn. In an effort to engage in due diligence, NBC Universal reportedly contacted some photographers and obtained their permission to display their photos. However, BGZ Studios, an Atlanta-based photography company that specializes in Cosplay has claimed that they, along with several other studios or photographers, were never contacted in regards to photos belonging to them that were used on the reality series. Feeling that they have been wronged legally, BGZ reached out to NBC Universal with an Invoice that was attached to a Letter of Demand. In conjunction, these documents are used to claim copyright ownership and to collect payment for the use of the photos.
According to the blog post from BGZ, NBC Universal’s own Senior Production Counsel Robyn Aronson did respond to BGZ's original correspondence. Per the account that has been made public in the blog post, some of which was redacted, she stated that her company did have the rights to the photos as they got the releases from the Cosplayers. Her response was met with a reply where BGZ cited statutes that they say enforce their right to send the Original Letter of Demand and Invoice. From there, BGZ claimed that NBC turned on the Cosplayers involved, threatening their careers. BGZ says NBC They also made it very clear that the Cosplayers In question were not at fault for their actions. After that round of interactions, there has not been any further contact between the two sides at this current time, and BGZ has made good on a threat in their final correspondence to go public with the dispute. Finally, there is also a deadline for a response set for September 24th. From that moment on, the Invoice is thrown out, and is replaced with a lawsuit.
Considering the seriousness of the accusations in general, we would like reiterate that all accounts of SyFy and NBC Universal so far come from one side of the story, BGZ's blog post. As such, we reached out to our SyFy press contact last night, but they have not yet responded. We'll update the article if they send us a statement or release one publicly.
In addition, we have also contacted the author of the post on BGZ, in the hopes of getting several questions answered about the situation at hand. Here is what we learned from that correspondence:
1) How many other photographers do you think are affected by this?
At least 3.
2) Can you explain the way copyright ownership works with photographs?
In most cases, the photographer is the author and copyright owner of the photograph. In regards to work-for-hire, (the photographer is hired as an employee for a company to shoot), the owner is the employer. Models have rights if a collaborative agreement is met with the photographer on creating an image - Co-authorship is formed and is legal. Model releases can explain things on who has rights to do what at a personal level. The copyright owner (the photographer) can register his/her images to the copyright bureau which give them exclusive rights.
3) You mention a response where NBC attacked the cosplayers, but don't go into that or print the response. Can you give us any more info on that?
I do not have enough information on this to disclose any more on this subject.
4) Can you fully disclose your relationship to the photos? I have contacted the photographer directly, and I want to confirm that he is associated with BGZ, along with said company handling the interaction with NBC Universal?
I am Bryan Humphreys' business advocate. I help him make business decisions and give him legal advice.
5) Finally, Is there a place where other photographers involved can contact each other?
There is no official form for this yet. I have reached out to one of them and they are researching their photographs in question.
With a deadline for litigation promised by BGZ for just under a month from now, this is a story that will not see its’ end with this initial report. As always, stay tuned to The Outhousers for the latest on the situation.